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Baby we were born to care

November 2007 -- Johnson & Johnson has begun running a new set of television ads as part of its massive Campaign for Nursing's Future, whose stated goal is to address the nursing shortage. The two new 30-second spots do not abandon the emotional, soft-focus helping imagery that marred the Campaign's previous ads, particularly in the use of more gooey lite music with lyrics about being "born to care." But both ads also do important things we urged the company to do in its analysis of the previous ads. They make clear that nurses save lives and improve outcomes, even offering some specific examples, like defibrillation. One ad pays tribute to nurse educators. And both continue the Campaign's admirable focus on promoting workforce diversity. We thank J&J for ads that do a better job of showing the public that nurses are not just angelic hand-holders.

Born To Care Commercial

Nurse Educator Commercial


2 1/2 stars Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars
good = 3 stars
fair = 2 stars
poor = 1 star

The first ad's theme is that viewers should "choose the life" of a nurse because that "makes a difference" in many other lives. The ad show four nurses: two women of color, one white man, and one white woman. The ad seems to have the same narrator as past Campaign ads did--a narrator who is well-qualified to do ads for baby products--but here she has a more substantial script to work with. Granted, the spot does begin with an image of nurse #1 stroking the head of a newborn, but we appear to be in the NICU, and the baby is hooked up to feeding tube.

Voiceover: This life was protected.

Then we see nurses #2 and #3 on either side of an adult patient. Nurse #2 says that she needs oxygen, and nurse #3 seems to prepare to get it. Then we see nurse #2 defibrillate the patient! That is something that regularly occurs in real life, but almost never on television, where the job is virtually always shown to be a physician responsibility.

VO: This life was saved.

Wow. We then see nurse #2 ask the same patient how he is feeling. Next, the ad shows nurse #4 pushing an older patient in a wheelchair, and then hugging the patient.

VO: And this life was made easier...

We see nurse #4 indoors, smiling at the camera.

VO: ...because of this life.

We see all four nurses together face the camera and smile. The ad closes and holds on the J&J / Campaign for Nursing's Future logo.

VO: Nursing. At Johnson & Johnson, we salute all those who choose the life that makes a difference.

As the ad runs, we hear a bland soul ballad, with the following lyrics:

You're the one who's born to care

Seems you've always been right there

Healing sadness, healing pain

Making smiles appear again

You're a nurse, you make a difference

This is just about as bad as the previous campaign song, which was a sappy commercial folk number about how nurses "dare to care." Like that song, this one has nothing specific about what nurses do. But it is full of vague, emotional helping imagery: nurses care, they are "always...right there," they engage in "healing," they make smiles appear, and they "make a difference." Perhaps the worst part is the "born to care" bit, which clearly suggests that nursing is some kind of spiritual virtue you're born with, rather than a serious profession that requires years of college-level education. And the prefab uplift of the music underlines the generic angel imagery of the lyrics.

Angel nursing imagery may work well for a huge pharmaceutical corporation seeking to sell its products. But such imagery also reinforces a damaging stereotype. That is a real problem at a time when the profession is in crisis largely because it is not regarded as a serious scientific profession.

See the ad below on YouTube:

3 stars Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars
good = 3 stars
fair = 2 stars
poor = 1 star

The second ad is a concise argument about the value of nurse educators. It features about six nurses and some nursing students, including men and women of color. As the ad begins, the instrumental track of the soul ballad plays, and we see a nurse in an ambulance giving oxygen to a patient.

VO: Right now, there's a nurse saving a life in Baltimore.

J&J could be talking about nurses here at the Truth! Sorry, we couldn't resist that. Then the ad cuts to an image of another nurse listening to a heartbeat of a newborn in a warmer.

VO: 20 minutes later she'll bring one into the world in Seattle.

We see another nurse quickly get out of a car on a deserted road and run to help a motorcycle rider who has apparently crashed.

VO: Later today she'll help an accident victim in Kansas. How can one nurse be in all these places? Through the nurses she taught...

We see a nurse educator lecturing in a bright, new-looking amphitheater.

VO: this place.

As the voiceover continues, we see different nurses apparently caring for the same three patients we saw earlier in the ad, including giving the oxygen in the ambulance and wrapping the newborn in a blanket.

VO: Johnson & Johnson knows behind every nurse who touches a life, there's a nurse educator who first touched them.

We see the educator in the amphitheater, showing a couple of the eager students something in a book.

The spot closes on the J&J / Campaign logo, as we hear the only audible line from the soul ballad: "You're a make a difference."

These 2007 ads do have some of the same problems as the ads from the Campaign's early years. In addition to the damaging music, the ads still include a fair amount of generic, emotional helping imagery. That will reinforce many viewers' sense that nurses are mostly about touching and feeling, rather than highly skilled professionals. In the ads, nurses stroke babies' heads and wrap them in blankets. They push patients in wheelchairs and give them hugs. They "help" accident victims and make lives "easier." Of course these things may be part of an important scientific process, but the public, knowing none of that, is unlikely to see them as more than unskilled handholding tasks.

In addition, the nurse educator "touches" students so they can "touch" patients. Is that really the most important thing happening in nurses' classes in chemistry, pharmacology, microbiology and physiology? Would anyone describe medical school classes, or medical practice, as being about "touching"? The earlier J&J ads also included a lot of "touching." We're sure it does no harm to J&J's image, but it tells people exactly what they don't need to hear about nursing.

But the ads are far better than their predecessors because they show viewers that nurses save lives and improve outcomes, with some good specific examples. The whole theme of the nurse educator ad is that nurses do get a valuable substantive education--in a real academic amphitheater!--and that they use it to help people in ways that, at least sometimes, are tangible. Both ads explicitly say that nurses save lives, a hugely important point. The NICU nurse is "protect[ing]" the baby's life. We see nurses defibrillating, listening to a heartbeat, asking for and giving oxygen--the asking being more important because it shows diagnostic ability. We see a nurse bringing a baby into the world, and a nurse listening to a baby's heartbeat. Even the nurse "helping" the accident victim seems to be handling a difficult situation with expertise and calm, by herself. Indeed, nowhere in these two ads is there any suggestion that physicians are directing this care.

Much of this is exactly what we urged J&J to do in analyzing the Campaign's 2005 ads. And although Campaign staff and their allies made clear to us just how little they valued our earlier analysis, they have done what we wanted to a significant extent. So we salute the Campaign for these ads. And we hope those responsible will go even further in future ads to show the public that nurses "make a difference" not just by touching and hugging, but by using advanced skills to save lives and improve public health.

See the ad below on YouTube:


Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Last updated: November 8, 2007

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.


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